Author Archive

Over the Plate: Arlie Latham’s Own Baseball Stories, No. 4

Arlie Latham, 1911

Arlie Latham, 1911

“Pity the Poor Umpire!” Cries One Who Knows – A Few of the Rules by Which That Unpopular Official is Supposed to Be Governed and Some of His Experiences with an Outlaw League.

Whenever I go to a ball game and hear the wolves in the bleachers howling “Kill the umpire!” I feel like crawling into the nearest hole and pulling the hole in after me. I can see the air as thick with stones as with raindrops, and I can still feel that old familiar “bupp!” as when some well-directed dornick [cited in the Oxford English Dictionary as a dialectal US term originating in the mid-19th century, meaning “pebble, stone or small boulder” –jt] used to knock me from under my hat. Umpiring is a great life, so it is—not.

When an umpire gets into a city, bowed down with the weight of the armor plate which he uses on the field of carnage, he can say with truth, “I haven’t got a friend in this city. There’s not a man here would loan me a nickel. I’m an outcast.”

I’ve been an umpire in a good many leagues in my day—from the Land League down to the Spinster’s League, where they bat .911 and never catch anything but a cold—and I’ve noticed a few things. I’ve felt things too. I wouldn’t look nearly so old if it hadn’t been for umpiring. I’m considerably over fifty, and I look all of forty-five. It’s terrible!

UMPIRES_aWell, anyway, one of the things I’ve noticed is that the further an umpire gets into the business the more particular the club owners get. In the big leagues the umpire is supposed to know what to do, and he does it—sometimes. But when he gets over his head in the sticks, he’s handed a list of rules and regulations that he’d have to go to college to learn. And when he’d have them learned his eyes would be ruined from overstudy, so that he wouldn’t be able to tell a strike from a June bug.

“An umpire should not dine with the players—nor on them.

“An umpire should always use his own toothbrush when possible. He should always carry one clean collar.

“He should never bandy words with the spectators. If they should crown him with a pop-bottle, let him remember that it is the only their way of expressing the joy in their innocent hearts.

“He should never use abusive language to a ball player. If he rules a player off the grounds, and the player refuses to go, let him call a policeman to eject him. If the policeman cannot eject the player, let him call the reserves. He’ll need them for his own protection.

“He must not try to borrow money from players or club managers. He would not get it, anyhow.”

Everyone likes to ride the poor ump, and those that have the least ability do it most. I’ve seen good men—pitchers who had everything but a mustache—get along fine with the umpires. And I’ve seen bushers with nothing on the ball but the stitches, and others who couldn’t hit a barrel if it were rolled at them, crabbing the umpires every game they played.

Sometimes the ump is to blame—but not always. And that reminds me.

One Sunday, back in Cincinnati, we were playing a game before a crowd of about eleven thousand people. McQuaid was the man slated to umpire, but he got sick and couldn’t show up. Bancroft, business manager of the club, and Patsy Tebeau, the then manager of the Cleveland club, finally decided on an umpire who lived in Covington, Ky.

Well, for about five innings everything was rosy. Crowd in good humor, players full of pepper. But about the fifth inning the ump began to blow, and put reverse English on his decisions. At last, after one particularly raw decision, the spectators began to climb out of the stands onto the field. Some of them started to throw things, and the whole mob surged toward the umpire. Two men who worked around the grounds got hold of a very long rope and ran out with it in order to head the crowd off and drive it back to the stands.

That’s where they made their fatal mistake. When the ump saw that rope he thought they were going to hang him. He turned tail and got out so fast that his feet only hit the high places. The last thing seen of him he was passing through Cumingsville [today spelled Cumminsville—jt], seven miles away, his ears pointed up wind, and his coat tails standing straight out behind. And at that time he was just settling down to run. The chief of police found him next day, and took him home in an airship.

But what happened to me was worse. Listen to this and you’ll laugh. But judge if I laughed at the time.

About eight years ago I was umpiring in the South Atlantic League. One day I was officiating in Augusta, Ga., and made a decision that I know was correct. The manager of one of the teams didn’t think so, however, and he swore for five minutes without repeating. Well, I said to myself, I’ll fix you, mister. You to the stable. So I ordered him to the club house.UMPIRES_b

“What!” he yelled. “Why, you big blank-blank-blank”—and he went off in another spasm.

When he wouldn’t go of his own accord I ordered two specials to assist him. They did, and he bucked like a billygoat all the way off the field. Before the game was over I had to put five of his men in the manger with him.

Unfortunately, the very next game I umpired this gentleman and his brood were along. They started trouble right off the bat. Things got so bad eventually that I had to have him up before the President of the league, where, I may say, he nearly lost his job.

One day when I was about disgusted I got a telegram from the Tri-State  League, offering me $500 a month if I’d come there and umpire. The Tri-State at that time was an outlaw league, and it meant that I’d have to do the loop-the-loop act. I went to a friend of mine and asked him what I’d better do.

“Why, you big dub,” he said, “jump!”

I did; and a few days afterward I found myself with the outlaws. The first game I umpired in that league went seventeen innings. Fine! Not a kick. The second game went fourteen innings. Great! Not a whisper. I was going along in that league like a house afire. The league owners congratulated me. What do you think of that? The league owners congratulated the poor umpire. I felt like a rookie who has just struck out Ty Cobb. But it didn’t fool me out of a sense of my position.

“Don’t,” I told them. “Never congratulate an umpire. To-day he’s a prince, and to-morrow he’s a bum.”

I was elated over it, though, and I think I had cause to be. But pride goeth before a fall, as the good Book says. And the next game—bing!

The game was at Williamsport, Pa., and before a big crowd. Williamsport had a fast team in those days, and a great many of the players afterward became famous in baseball. Well, along about the middle of the game the visiting team was leading by a few runs. Williamsport got a few men on bases about the fourth or fifth inning, and Jim Delahanty came to bat. He picked one and sent it sizzling down the third-base line. It went foul by about a foot and a half. I called “Foul!” but the players and crowd began to howl “Run! Run!” and Jim continued around the bases like a race horse. When he got to third base I headed him off and sent him back. Wow! What a roar! The wolves began to ride me, the players began to crab, and it looked as though the seething mixture was going to explode right there.

Edelman_Kill the Umpire_aI got them started again at last, but I was afraid to take my station behind the catcher. I knew he’d let a high fast one go by, and I knew when he did I’d get it right in the teeth. Smack! How do you do? Not for me. I went behind the pitcher. Even at that the catcher threw them back with all his speed, and the pitcher was letting them slip through his hands. But I was too wise. I ducked, and let them go by too.

The game was over at last. Williamsport had lost, and I prepared to leave the field. The crowd stuck. I could see them winding up to deliver their famous fast one. I could feel my head getting bumpy already. When I went into the little shelter at one side of the field to change my shoes five policemen surrounded me to escort me from the field.

The action started; and as usual I was one the receiving end. A fellow with a big auto drove up and told me to get in. I did. So did the cops. They surrounded me. The fellow driving the auto ran it out into the middle of the field and stalled it. What the rocks did to that auto was a shame. The driver ordered us to get out. He said the machine had broken down.UMPIRES_cc

“You got us here,” said one of the cops, “and now you get us out of here, or I’ll pound your head in.” The rocks were pretty thick by this time, and some of them landed in the car with a smack that would rattle your teeth.  Finally we got under way and made for the gate licketty-split. The gate was jammed with autos and carriages and we couldn’t get through. This was a home run for us, though, and we made the complete circuit. We didn’t dare stop, so round and round the field we went, sometimes on two wheels and sometimes on four. When we’d come round to the gate we’d take one look at the jam, and then away we’d go again around the field. The mob was running after, and scattering before us, and the rocks were “bupping” into that machine speedier than Matty’s fast one.

Finally the gate was cleared and we zipped through it. Outside was a rockpile, and the gang was waiting with their arms full. The rocks came so fast they looked like a shower. They flew over our heads, they pinged into the sides of the car, they crashed into the radiator. We simply roared along that road, and suddenly we were safe. But the car looked as though it had been through the mill. And the poor cops—oh, how do you do! But the man they were out to get—me—I didn’t have a scratch!

But just the same, I say, pity the poor umpire.

“It is only their way of expressing the joy in their innocent hearts.”



Old News in Baseball, No. 20

Newsboy logoThis week’s installment of Old News has several entries that focus not only on what happened and when but also how it came to be counted in later years—from the celebrated walks-as-hits year in 1887 to the bounce home run to Ty Cobb’s career hit total. Maybe the coming conclusion of the regular season prompts such musings, but MLB has evolved in more than its styles of play. Many have sought to conform the practices and underlying reasoning of the past with those of the present by simply disregarding the scoring conventions of the early game. I think it is worthwhile to attempt to understand the past in its own context rather than “update” it. Why was Fred Dunlap’s game-ending home run in 1880, with a man on base, at first denied and then accepted? How could Al Lopez, in 1930, get credit for a home run on a hit that bounced over the fence? Read on. 

Howard Ehmke

Howard Ehmke

September 11

1923: After Yankee leadoff hitter Whitey Witt reaches first base on a bobbled grounder to third base that is ruled a single‚ Boston’s submarine pitcher Howard Ehmke retires the next 27 batters for a 3-0 win. The Yankee crowd exhorts the scorer Fred Lieb to reverse his call on the hard grounder that 3B Howard Shanks booted‚ but Lieb stands fast. Thus is Ehmke denied a chance to pre-empt Johnny Vander Meer in the record books, for he had pitched a no-hitter in his previous appearance. For more, see:

1985: Pete Rose becomes baseball’s all-time hit leader‚ singling to left center off Eric Show in the first inning of the Reds’ 2-0 win over San Diego. His 4‚192nd career hit breaks Ty Cobb’s record before 47‚237 fans at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium … or did it? Because Cobb’s hit total had been padded by a double-counted game in 1910, Rose had actually topped the record at Wrigley Field on September 8. For more, see:–day-pete-rose-really-broke-ty-cobbs-record/71873560/

2001: All major league baseball games are canceled due to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center‚ United Airlines Flight 93‚ and the Pentagon. With commercial air traffic on lockdown, the Blue Jays take a 12-hour bus ride from Baltimore back to Toronto, while the White Sox go home via a 15-hour bus trip from New York.

September 12

1874: The Boston Red Stockings’ return home after an eight-week English is spoiled by a 6-5 victory for their shipmates, the Philadelphia Athletics. The two clubs had departed in the midst of the National Association regular season, suspending their schedules from July 15, when they played each other in Philadelphia, to September 10, when they squared off in Philadelphia again.

Philadelphia Athletics at Boston, 1874 or 1875

Philadelphia Athletics at Boston, 1874 or 1875

1930: Brooklyn catcher Al Lopez drives a ball over the head of Cincinnati left fielder Bob Meusel; it bounces into the bleachers at Ebbets Field. It will be the last recorded bounce home run‚ as NL rules for 1931 will rule that such a hit will be a double. The AL had made the change after the 1929 season. Oddly, Babe Ruth never had a bounce home run.

1962: Washington’s Tom Cheney sets a big-league record mark with 21 strikeouts in a complete-game victory. You thought that record belonged to others, with 20 (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood)? Cheney’s record came in 16-inning game at Baltimore.

Jimmy Ryan with Washington 1903

Jimmy Ryan with Washington 1903

September 13

1880: National League secretary Nick Young rules that the final score of the July 10 game in which Cleveland’s Fred Dunlap hit an over-the-fence home run in the bottom of the ninth should be 2-0‚ not 1-0‚ as originally accounted. Young declares that it would be a “gross injustice” to deprive Dunlap of his dinger, yet such deprivation was the norm until 1920. “Sudden-death” home runs with a winning run on base came in for review by the Special Baseball Records Committee prior to publication of the Macmillan/ICI encyclopedia of 1969: Its ruling read: “The committee originally voted that before 1920 any ball hit outside the park in a sudden death situation should be counted as a home run. However, after the committee had a further opportunity to review their ruling and [realizing that this would alter Ruth’s career total to 715] … they reversed their decision on May 5, 1969.”  For more, see:

1887: Jimmy Ryan goes 6-for-6 for Chicago with a single, double, home run, and three walks, which are counted as hits in this year. He also pitches the final five innings in relief to get the win, becoming the only man to pitch in a game in which he hits for a cycle. You don’t think this deserves to be counted as a cycle? Ryan did it again on July 28 of the following year, taking the pitcher’s box with two out in the second and apparently finishing out the game against Detroit. Ryan, recalled today as a center fielder, hit for the cycle again in 1891. Tom Parrott was a pitcher who also hit for the cycle, on September 28, 1894 against the New York Giants, but on this day he was positioned at second base. For more, see:

1908: On closing day of the Ohio State League‚ Walter “Smoke” Justis of Lancaster pitches a 3-0 no-hitter against Marion. It’s his fourth of the year. The others came on July 19 against Mansfield‚ August 2 against Portsmouth‚ and September 8 over Lima. Justis pitched in two games for the 1905 Tigers. For more, see:

September 14

1943: At Memphis‚ Pete Gray has a triple‚ double‚ and three singles to lead Memphis to a 7-6‚ 12-inning win over Nashville in the Southern Association playoffs. The one-armed Gray is named the league MVP and plays outfield for the St. Louis Browns in 1944.

1968: Denny McLain becomes the first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934‚ as the Tigers beat the A’s 5-4, as the Tigers push across two in the ninth to win. Al Kaline‚ pinch hitting for McLain‚ walks and scores the tying run. Denny (30-5; he will finish 31-6, winning both the CY Young and the Most Valuable Player awards) gives up six hits and fans ten.

1978: After some years in retirement and others in the minors, Jim Bouton‚ 39‚ earns a 4-1 win for the Atlanta Braves over the San Francisco Giants. It is his first big-league victory since 1970‚ and the last of his career.

September 15

1912: In the second game of twin bill, Boston’s Joe Wood wins his 16th straight game as he tops the Browns 2-1 in a game called after eight innings because of darkness. Earlier in the year‚ Walter Johnson had also posted a streak of 16 straight wins. To keep his streak alive, Smoky Joe had to defeat Johnson, 1-0, earlier this month before a packed house at Fenway. For more, see:

Smokey Joe Wood warmed up amid a big crowd at Fenway Park in 1912

Smoky Joe Wood warmed up amid a big crowd at Fenway Park in 1912

1952: In a Cold War challenge to America’s national game, scholars in the Soviet Union offer up their own game of lapta as being the progenitor of baseball. If one wished to trace bat-and-ball games back to their antecedents, one might cite the game of seker-hemat, played along the banks of the Nile in 2400 BCE. In a wall relief at the shrine of Hathor, the goddess of love and joy, in Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir-el-Bahari, Thutmose III is seen holding a ball in one hand and a stick in the other. The hieroglyph reads: “Striking the ball for Hathor who is foremost in Thebes.”

1969: Steve Carlton of the Cardinals fans a record 19 batters and still loses. Ron Swoboda hits a pair of two-run homers‚ and the New York Mets, team of destiny in this year, beats St. Louis 4-3.

September 16

1937: Martin Dihigo pitches the first no-hit‚ no-run game in Mexican pro ball, a 4-0 victory against Nogales at Veracruz. Next year, Dihigo will lead the Mexican League in ERA (0.90)‚ wins (18-2)‚ strikeouts (184) … and batting (.387). Only Guy Hecker in MLB annals came close.

1958: Frank Lary becomes the third pitcher to beat the Yankees seven or more times in one season‚ as the Tiger righthander defeats them‚ 4-2. Ed Walsh (9-1 in 1908) and Ed Cicotte (7-1 in 1916) were the others—but Lary sets the AL record for most wins in a season against the pennant winner. (The NL record is eight‚ by Bob Buhl over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956.)

1975: Pittsburgh second baseman Rennie Stennett ties Wilbert Robinson’s  record‚ set June 10‚ 1892‚ by going 7-for-7 in a nine-inning game. (Cesar Gutierrez of Detroit went 7-for-7 in an extra-inning contest in 1970.) The Pirates top the Cubs 22-0.

September 17

1866: The Excelsiors of Brooklyn play the first match of their Southern tour against the National team in Washington‚ winning 33-28. The game starts at 4 p.m. on the White Lot, behind the White House. President Andrew Johnson watches the game for a brief time.

Excelsiors and Nationals at the White Lot, 1866

Excelsiors and Nationals at the White Lot, 1866

1900: Cincinnati shortstop Tommy Corcoran‚ coaching at third base in a doubleheader at Philadelphia‚ uncovers a wire in the coaching box that leads across the outfield to the Phillies’ locker room. There‚ reserve catcher Morgan Murphy reads the opposing catcher’s signs and relays them to the Phils’ coach “What’s the Use” Chiles by a buzzer hidden in the dirt. It seems nothing in baseball is truly new.

1912:  Casey Stengel breaks in with Brooklyn and has four singles, a walk‚ two steals‚ and two RBIs in the 7-3 win over Pittsburgh. For more, see:

Over the Plate: Arlie Latham’s Own Baseball Stories, No. 3

Arlie Latham, 1888

Arlie Latham, 1888

No. 3 – Old “Tacks” Parrot, Star Pitcher in the Early ’90s, Certainly Was the Real, Official, League Double-Stitched Article of an Eccentric – Played Cornet All the Time He Wasn’t Playing Ball and Wore Oregon Whiskers That Kept the Whole Team Guessing – Could “Ketch” Ball Some, Too. [Today the record books render his name as Parrott, but here we will preserve Latham’s spelling.]

In this, number three of the series which the famous baseball comedian is “twirling in the big Magazine league,” as he characteristically expresses it, we have some racy reminiscences of another of those old, bygone individualities of the game, so conspicuous in their day, so completely forgotten shortly after….

Old “Tacks” Parrot was a character. No one ever quite knew what Tom was capable of, and no one ever knew what he was going to do next. I’ve seen a good many bugs when I was in the game militant—from fellows who would go fishing in a mud puddle with a safety pin, a piece of thread and a limb of a tree, to eccentric gentlemen who would steal anything from second base to your best girl. But for the real, official, league, double-stitched article I never knew any one that had it on Tom Parrot.

Tom was a pitcher in the early nineties, and when he wasn’t playing ball he was playing first cornet, or something, in a bush orchestra back in his home town. Before a game Tom used to pitch up in practice for more than half an hour, and when he thought he was pretty well warmed up he’d go out into centerfield and shag flies until his tongue got sunburned. Then he’d come in and pitch his head off in a game. When the game was over Tom would run for a hogshead of ice water and thrust his pitching arm into it. He said that sort of treatment kept the salary wing in condition. I never could figure out whether he had a good whip because of this treatment or in spite of it.Parrot 1

Well, along in the early nineties, before I developed gum-hoof and umpire’s crouch, I was playing with the Cincinnati team. We trained in those days in Dallas, Tex. On the day I speak of there were a lot of rookies upsetting the pepper box around the infield and whooping things up generally. The grounds were open, and pretty soon in strolled a big, lanky six-footer, with a full set of bushes and a build like a bunch of coach whips.

He strolled over to one of the ballplayers and asked him “if he could borry his glove and ketch a few.” The player asked him if he could play any ball.

“Why, I’m a right smart ballplayer, I am.”

The player looked hard at the other’s whiskers for a second, and then said: “I’ll bet I know who you are. You’re Pete Bush of the Alfalfa League.”

“No, I hain’t,” replied the other; “I’m a local boy.”

Well, the player gave him his glove, which was a lefthand one, and the busher put it on his right hand. Then he moved over to first base and yelled for some “hot ones.” He got them. And he got a hot reception, too. The minute the players spotted those whiskers they started to ride him.

“Get out from behind that bush!”

“Take off those rabbit nests!”

“Who’s the guy with the steel wool on his map?”

“That’s Herr Shoot!”

“Don’t throw the ball into that alfalfa – he’ll lose it!”

The big fellow never batted an eye at all this; he simply stood there waiting, with his arms stretched straight out before him, the heels of his palms closed and his fingers stuck out at all angles like the blades of a jack-knife.

Parrot 3And they let him have it. Every one that got the ball picked it up and let drive at the busher with enough force to send the ball clean through him. And there was old “Brush” on first, making all sorts of stabs at them and, somehow or other, stopping them. And the more success he had in stopping the balls the harder the players threw. In about ten minutes there wasn’t a man on the field that did not have a sore arm.

After a time the big first baseman changed his glove to his left hand and started to “ketch” them in earnest. He speared them from all angles. He grabbed them out of the air, and picked them up from his shoe-laces. And he shot them back at the other players so fast that when they hit you could hear the smack all over the field.

Then they tumbled. The fellow with the sedge grass on his chin was “Tacks” Parrot!

You see, “Tacks” lived up in Oregon, where it was so cold that you could sharpen a piece of ice and use it for a razor all winter, and so he used to grow those whiskers to protect his throat. Knowing he’d have a little fun, he left them on when he came to Dallas.

I remember another funny incident connected with Tom. I was playing with the Cincinnati team at the time, and was living in one of those very quiet, refined sections of the city where the tradesman deliver their orders through the basement, where the people all bat .300 in the Finance League, and where you never hear a stray cat singing to his love or an organ grinder playing “Sweet Rosie O’Grady.” Before the season actually had started I awoke one morning about 5 o’clock and lay abed half awake, thinking idly of one thing and another.

Suddenly, somewhere in the neighborhood, the notes of a cornet rang out. This was at 5 o’clock in the morning. The fellow that played the cornet ran all the way down the scale, and then he ran all the way back again. Then he came down again and stopped in the middle as though he had made only a two-base hit. He hung around second for a while, blowing on the same note; then he made a break for third, got there and, without slackening speed, made for home. The last note was a sharp, snappy one, so I guess he slid and was called safe.

Well, that fellow blew everything out of a cornet that was in it except the hole.

This sort of thing continued every morning until the season opened. All the time we were wondering where Tom Parrot was. Up to the time the season opened no one had seen him. On the opening day we were all dressed and ready to go to the grounds, but still no Tom Parrot.

I might have suspected that the cornetist that bothered me in the morning was Tom; but somehow I didn’t. As I say, on the day the season opened we were all ready and waiting for Tom.  Not a sign of him. Finally along came the conveyance that was to take us to the grounds. We all climbed aboard and expected to see Tom come running up at any minute. But he didn’t.

Parrot 2At last we were about to start, and had given “Tacks” up for lost, when a brass band on its way to the grounds swung around a corner and headed for us full blare. But it wasn’t the band that caused us to nearly fall off the tallyho; it was something else. There, at the head of the musicians, dressed in a long linen duster and sombrero, and blowing a cornet so hard that his face came to a point at his mouth, was the missing Tom Parrot! And then I knew who the morning soloist was.

When we took trips on trains Tom never bothered to waste his time talking or playing cards; he’d just take the mouthpiece of his cornet out of his grip and practice making his lips flexible until we came to our destination.

On boat trips Tom was as good as a play. First he’d take a seat near the orchestra and watch the cornetist. Little by little he’d edge up to him until he looked as though he belonged to the orchestra. Then Tom would pull one hand from behind his back and there would be the cornet. And the next thing we knew Tom would be playing away for dear life and paying attention to nothing else.

I can very well remember the trips we used to take to Washington when old “Tacks” was along with us. After we had dressed in our hotel we proceeded to the ball grounds in a tally-ho. (That word “proceeded” always reminds me of a vacationist’s diary – “we proceeded from the lake to the next village and thence took the eight-sixty-three airship back to the boarding house” – you know.)

After we had climbed to the top of the conveyance, Tom would bring his cornet from under his duster and begin to wet his lips. Next he’d straighten up, throw out his chest and then stretch his arms out in front of him. By this time Tom was all warmed up and ready to go on the mound.

Ladies and gentlemen! Tom Parrot is now about to pitch (his cornet), and if necessary, to play any position, or tune, in the musical field.

Tom Parrott, Portland Greengages, 1903

Tom Parrott, Portland Greengages, 1903

After Tom had made a few preliminary passes through the air with the cornet he’d put it to his lips and let her go. People in the street would look in amazement after the tally-ho, and those in front of us would line up along the curb, thinking that a circus or a band was coming down the street.

Tom would keep this up all the way to the grounds; he never paid any attention to the people on the street, but kept his eyes rolled up at the sky, as though there wasn’t anything on earth, except the cornet, worth looking at. Tom wasn’t a slouch with the stick, but he used to make bigger and more hits on the way to the grounds than he ever did in them.

When we’d get to the grounds someone would have to jog his arm to make him quit playing. If this were not done he would continue to play until there wasn’t a note left in the cornet.

I don’t know what Tom is doing now; but I think it is very probably he is the owner, manager and captain combined of some bush league orchestra up in Portland, Ore., and throwing them over with a good, free (musical) delivery, holding his opponents hitless and getting a few blows (out of his cornet) himself.



Old News in Baseball, No. 19

Newsboy logoLabor Day is upon us. Time to toss that straw hat onto the field, or put it away until next year. Gentlemen will cease to wear white. Pitchers will come to dominate the game once more, as they did before the summer heat set in. Opponents Sandy Koufax and Bob Hendley will combine to yield one hit. Rube Waddell will come back from the grave top Bob Feller’s seemingly new strikeout record. Bull Durham will pitch and win both ends of five consecutive doubleheaders. And Three Finger Brown and Christy Mathewson will square off one last time. 

September 4

1916: To help draw a Labor Day crowd‚ and because of their longtime rivalry—25 games since 1903, almost evenly split—Christy Mathewson and Three Finger Brown agree to close out their careers in the same game. Matty‚ now the manager of the Reds‚ wins 10-8 as the Reds rack up 19 hits off Brown while the Cubs record 15 off Mathewson. Both pitchers stagger all the way to the end, registering complete games in their final big-league appearances. After several decades the significance of this game became apparent. The annals showed that when Mathewson retired he had accumulated 372 victories, a National League record. Grover Cleveland Alexander subsequently won 373, consigning Mathewson’s mark to second place. But a statistician later discovered that a May 1902 Mathewson 4-2 victory over Pittsburgh had been erroneously entered in the record books as a loss.

Brown vs. Mathewson, the last hurrah

Brown vs. Mathewson, the last hurrah

1935: Babe Ruth receives a lifetime pass for all National League games from NL president Ford Frick. His sad comment at the time: “It is nice to know that the National League has a heart.” Ruth, who had spent nearly his entire career in the American League, had to pay his way into ballgames in his longtime league until 1936, when both leagues combine to create a program of such passes for ten-year veterans.

1945: Long-time Yankee batting practice pitcher Paul Schreiber‚ 43‚ who last pitched in the big leagues in 1923, relieves for the Yanks in a Tiger rout, allowing no hits in 3-1/3 innings. The 22 years between major league appearances is a record.

1791 Pittsfield bylaw

1791 Pittsfield bylaw

September 5

1791: At a town meeting in Pittsfield‚ MA‚ a bylaw is passed making it illegal to play baseball and other sports within eighty yards of the town hall to prevent the breaking of windows. The existence of the bylaw was rediscovered in 2003 by yours truly, and its physical location was established in the following year by, among others, Jim Bouton. The bylaw reads as follows: “Be it ordained by the said Inhabitants that no person or Inhabitant of said Town‚ shall be permitted to play at any game called Wicket‚ Cricket‚ Baseball‚ Batball‚ Football‚ Cats‚ Fives or any other games played with Ball‚ within the Distance of eighty yards from said Meeting House – And every such Person who shall play at any of the said games or other games with Ball within the distance aforesaid‚ shall for every Instance thereof‚ forfeit the Sum of five shillings….” For more, see:

1914: Pitching for Providence (IL) against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, 19-year-old Babe Ruth hurls a one-hitter and hits his only minor league home run‚ a three-run blast off Ellis Johnson. A plaque marks the site of the former ballpark at Hanlan’s Point.

1954: Joe Bauman of the Roswell Rockets (Class C Longhorn League) clouts his 70th‚ 71st‚ and 72nd homers‚ at this time a record in Organized Baseball (later topped by Barry Bonds). Bauman ends the season with a .400 batting average‚ a .916 slugging average, and 224 RBIs. For more, see:

September 6

1953: The Chicago Cubs win a doubleheader from Cincinnati by scores of 7-6 and 7-2. In the first game, Cubs first baseman Dee Fondy hits one of his team’s four homers and then scores the game-winning run with a two-out, two-strike steal of home in the ninth inning.

100th Anniversary, 1969

100th Anniversary, 1969

1963: Baseball historian Lee Allen says the Indians-Senators game is the 100‚000th in ML history. Bennie Daniels celebrates by beating the Tribe 7-2. Until 1969, MLB and its encyclopedias recognized the National Association as its point of origin; but since 1969, MLB has recognized its onset as 1876, the year of the National League’s founding. Omitting the 1,086 National Association games meant that MLB celebrated its 200,000th game not in July 2011 but in September. For more, see:

1995: Cal Ripken plays in his 2‚131st consecutive game‚ breaking Lou Gehrig’s long-standing record. The record becomes official after the Angels are retired in the top of the fifth and play is stopped for 22 minutes as Ripken takes a lap around Camden Yards.

September 7

1916: At the Polo Grounds‚ the Giants Ferdie Schupp beats Brooklyn’s Nap Rucker‚ 4-1‚ to launch New York’s record 26-game winning streak. The Giants also had a 17-game winning streak in May. So how will they manage to finish in fourth place, seven games behind the pennant-winning Dodgers? You could look it up.

1993: Mark Whiten ties the major-league record for RBIs in a game with 12 in St. Louis’ 15-2 win over the Reds. Whiten hits a record-tying four homers, including a first inning grand slam. Before today‚ Whiten had not homered in four weeks.

Mark Whiten's 4 HR, 12 RBI game

Mark Whiten’s 4 HR, 12 RBI game

1998: Mark McGwire hits his record-tying 61st home run of the year in the first inning off the Cubs’ Mike Morgan. Nine more will follow, as the great race between McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66) results in both surpassing Roger Maris’s single-season record.

September 8

1897: Louisville unveils a new battery in catcher Ossee Schreckengost and 20-year-old Rube Waddell. Ossee goes 0-for-3 and Waddell loses his big-league debut to the first-place Orioles‚ 5-1. Rube and Ossee will reunite as roommates—when the practice was to bunk two players to the bed—as well as batterymates with the Philadelphia A’s. During one salary negotiation with Connie Mack, Schreckengost had a clause written into his contract that barred Waddell from eating crackers in bed.

1945: President Truman tosses out the first ball and then cheers the Senators to their fifth win in six games against the Browns. The second place Nats win 4-1 behind the 5-hit pitching of Pete Appleton‚ recently released by the Browns. It is his last win, but his career had seemed over once before, when as Pete Jablonowski he washed out of the majors in 1933, only to return three years later as Pete Appleton. As baseball’s original player to be named later, Appleton proved to be a better pitcher than Jablonowski.

1946: With the Red Sox running away with the AL race‚ attention focuses on Bob Feller’s strikeout total. In the nitecap of a twin bill, Feller tops the Browns‚ 3-2‚ on six hits and 8 strikeouts and reaches 300 today‚ a number reached by Walter Johnson and Rube Waddell twice each in the twentieth century. Can Feller beat Waddell’s 347 of 1904? As the season comes to an end, statisticians discover an error in the Aug. 24 box score that shorted Feller one strikeout against the A’s. Counting that one‚ Feller ends with 348, setting a new record … he thinks. Alas! Waddell’s old record of 347 was apparently based on the compilations of George Moreland‚ an early baseball historian‚ and listed in Little Red Book. TSN researchers led by my old friend Cliff Kachline later up Waddell’s total to 349—still the mark for AL lefthanders.

September 9

1858: The first game under “New York rules” is played in New England‚ on the Boston Common. The Tri-Mountain Club of Boston—formed by New Yorkers to play their version of the game—loses to the visiting club from Portland‚ Maine club‚ 47-42. “The Boston people, although obliged to accept defeat, were pleased with the new game. The evening was spent in jollification around the board at the Cummings House.” For more, see:

Base Ball Quadrille, dedicated to the Tri-Mountain Club

Base Ball Quadrille, dedicated to the Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club of Boston

1945: In his first start since his return from three years in the Canadian Army, The A’s Dick Fowler pitches a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns‚ winning 1-0.

1965: When the Dodgers’ Lou Johnson draws a walk in the fifth inning from the Cubs’ Bob Hendley, he becomes the game’s first baserunner for either side. Following a sacrifice‚ Johnson steals third and scores on the catcher’s wild throw. Johnson later gets the game’s only hit‚ a seventh-inning single. Sandy Koufax throws his fourth no-hitter in four years, and this one is a perfect game. The one hit by two clubs is a record‚ as is the one runner left on base.

September 10

1881: In a game played in Albany as an alternative home site for the Haymakers of Troy, Roger Connor hits the first grand slam in major-league history. The blow‚ with his team three runs down with two outs in the ninth‚ comes off Worcester’s Lee Richmond; today we would term it a walk-off or ultimate grand slam.

1908: Louis “Bull” Durham of the Indianapolis Browns pitches and wins both ends of a doubleheader against the Toledo Mud Hens. This is the fifth time this season he has accomplished this feat. Durham enjoyed little success in the majors but became a darling of SABR as one of its “missing persons.” For more, see:

1918: Before Game 5 of this year’s World Series—played in September because the regular season was shortened as part of the war effort—players on both sides threaten to strike unless they are guaranteed the World Series shares they were promised. The Red Sox and Cubs back off‚ however‚ when told they will appear greedy while their countrymen are fighting a war. On the field‚ the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn blanks the Red Sox, who rebound to win Game 6 and the championship.


Old News in Baseball, No. 18

Newsboy logoPennant races are heating up, with clubs long absent from contention stealing the scene. But in the shadow world of the past, baseball presents great stories, too. Faded stars revive for a last hurrah; home run heroes are brought low; and a perfect game is spoiled with only one strike to go. Only in baseball among all our sports does the past vibrate silently alongside the present, not competing for attention but enriching the life of the fan.

August 28

1889: The second place New York Giants defeat the last-place Washington Senators twice, winning, 16-3 and 7-5. Playing for the Statesmen in the opener is Harry Corson Clarke, a long-time thespian, who is 0-for-3 in his lone big-league appearance. Clarke is in the circle of DeWolf Hopper, Francis Wilson, and Digby Bell, among other baseball-loving actors who played for the Actors’ Amateur Athletic Association of America—or the 5A team, for short. For more, see:

1926: The Indians use the same lineup in 2 victories over the Red Sox‚ including Emil Levsen‚ who pitches the 6-1 and 5-1 sweep. After allowing only four hits in the opener, he offers to pitch the nightcap, too, and manager Tris Speaker lets him. Levsen again allows four hits and no walks‚ becoming the last pitcher to throw two complete games in a day. For more, see:

1969: At a press conference in New York‚ Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announces the publication of The Baseball Encyclopedia, the first such encyclopedia offering complete player statistics—and the first book ever typeset by computer. For more, see:

August 29

1887: Denny Lyons of the Athletics is held hitless for the first time since May 23‚ ending a 52-game hitting streak. In two of those games—July 22 and August 19—however‚ Lyons’s only hits were actually bases on balls‚ which are counted as hits this year. When Joe DiMaggio topped Willie Keeler’s mark off 44 straight games in 1941, no one thought to bring up Lyons.

1925: After a night on the town‚ Babe Ruth shows up late for batting practice. Miller Huggins suspends Ruth and slaps a $5‚000 fine on him. In the ensuing battle of wills, owner  Jacob Ruppert backs up his manager. Ruth is forced to apologize to the team before he is reinstated.Miller Huggins, Jacob Ruppert

1985: The Reds trade veteran Cesar Cedeno to the Cardinals for minor leaguer Mark Jackson. An MVP candidate at age 21, Cedeno’s star soon dimmed, but flared again for St. Louis in his 16th year in the majors. Cedeno helped the Cards to the NL East title by batting .434 in 28 games.

August 30

1905: Ty Cobb makes his American League debut‚ doubling off Jack Chesbro as Detroit defeats New York‚ 5-3.

1918: In the fastest NL game to this time, the Giants beat Brooklyn 1-0 in 57 minutes behind the pitching of Pol Perritt‚ scoring their lone run in the ninth. Veteran Jack Coombs takes the loss and after the game announces his retirement. The Giants will play a game against the Phillies next year on September 28 in just 51 minutes‚ a record that stands to this day. 

Bob Prince, Harold Arlin

Bob Prince, Harold Arlin

1972: In Pittsburgh‚ announcer Bob Prince turns the mike over to Harold Arlin. On August 5‚ 1921‚ Arlin was the first announcer to broadcast a live play-by-play game‚ on KDKA. Today he calls a few innings while his grandson‚ Steve‚ is on the mound for the Pirates against San Diego. For more, see:

August 31

1906: Beset by injuries‚ the Tigers call 46-year-old Sam Thompson out of retirement; he plays his old position of right field and bats cleanup, driving in two runs in a 5-1 win over the Browns. Thompson‚ who last played in the majors in 1898‚ appears in eight games for the Tabby Cats.

1950: Gil Hodges of the Brooklyn Dodgers hits four home runs and a single‚ driving in nine runs in the Dodgers 19-3 rout of the Boston Braves in Ebbets Field. Hodges’ 17 total bases are the most since 1894.

1990: Ken Griffeys—Jr. in center field and Sr. in left field—become the first father-and-son combination to play as teammates in the big leagues. Each goes 1-for-4 in Seattle’s 5-2 win over the Royals.

Masanori Murakami

Masanori Murakami

September 1

1872: Albert Thake‚ 22-year-old left fielder of the Brooklyn Atlantics‚ drowns off Fort Hamilton‚ in New York Harbor‚ while fishing. A benefit game is arranged by Bob Ferguson between the old Brooklyn Atlantics and members of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Thake becomes the second man in professional league play to have died. Only Elmer White, cousin of Hall of Famer Deacon White, preceded him in death.

1964: Southpaw reliever Masanori Murakami becomes the first major-league player from Japan. He debuts in a 4-1 San Francisco loss at New York. His first 11 innings will be scoreless ones. For more, see:

1987: Williamsport (Eastern League) Bills catcher Dave Bresnahan introduces something new to baseball—the hidden-potato trick. With a Reading runner‚ Rick Rudblad‚ on third base‚ Bresnahan returns from a time out with a shaved potato hidden in his mitt. On the next pitch he throws the potato wildly on a pickoff attempt. When the runner trots home‚ Bresnahan tags him out with the real ball. The umpire‚ unamused‚ rules the runner safe‚ gives the catcher an error‚ and fines him $50. Tomorrow, the parent Indians release him. 

Nantasket Beach 1880

Nantasket Beach 1880

September 2

1880: The first night baseball game is attempted at Nantasket Beach‚ MA‚ between teams from two Boston department stores‚ Jordan Marsh and R. H. White. The Boston Post reports the next day that “A clear‚ pure‚ bright light was produced‚ very strong and yet very pleasant to the sight,” by the 12 carbon-arc electric lamps. The game ends in a 16-16 tie.

1972: Milt Pappas of the Cubs hurls a no-hit game in beating the Padres 8–0. Pappas has a perfect game until pinch hitter Larry Stahl walks with two outs in the ninth. Pappas later commented on the plate umpire Bruce Froemming, “He had a chance to become famous as the umpire in the twelfth perfect game in baseball history, but he blew it.”

2001: The Yankees defeat the Red Sox‚ 1-0‚ as Mike Mussina comes within a strike of hurling a perfect game. Pinch hitter Carl Everett’s two-out‚ two-strike single in the ninth inning ruins Mussina’s gem. It is the 3rd time in his career that the righty has taken a perfect game into at least the eighth inning.

September 3

1881: Veteran center fielder Lip Pike makes three errors in the final frame to give Boston two runs and a 3-2 victory over Worcester. The losing club immediately accuses Pike of throwing the game and suspends him.

1955: Sandy Koufax seems to have the hang of it, as he hurls his second consecutive shutout‚ topping the Pirates 4-0 on 5 hits. But five more years of control woes will hold him back until catcher Norm Sherry convinces him that he can throw a bit less hard and still be overpowering—with control.

1972: Steve Carlton shuts out the Braves 8-0 for his eighth whitewash of the season. This is the most for a Phillies’ pitcher since Grover C. Alexander in 1917. Carlton will go to win 27 games for the last-place Phils, who will win only 32 games all year that were not Carlton’s.

Over the Plate: Arlie Latham’s Own Baseball Stories, No. 2

Charlie Frank

Charlie Frank

No. 2—In Baseball, a Great Deal Depends on What You Can Get Away With—Charlie Frank of the New Orleans Team Used to Hand Out “Punk” or Rubber Balls, According to Circumstances, and “Umps” Could Do Nothing, Even After Getting Wise to the Trick.

This is the second of a series of unusual entertaining stories told by Arlie Latham, reminiscent of the old days of baseball, and of some of the things, ludicrous and whimsical, that go to make up a player’s life. Arlie—who was christened Walter Arlington—will be remembered with the Giants of late years as coach and scout.

He played his first professional ball in 1882 with the Philadelphia team of the Alliance League. [The latter is today termed the League Alliance, and it was not Arlie’s first appearance in pro ball: he began with Springfield of the National Association in 1879, moved up to Buffalo of the National League in 1880, and back down to Philly in the Eastern Championship Association in 1881.] Later he joined the St. Louis “Browns,” with whom he remained nine years [in fact seven, from 1883-89, then another few games with St. Louis of the NL in 1896, Washington in 1899, and the Giants in 1909]. Subsequently he played in Chicago, Cincinnati, and then back to St. Louis. He was one of the best third baseman and baserunners the game ever turned out, and was known the country over as baseball’s foremost comedian.

It is estimated that while he was under Chris von der Ahe, in St. Louis, he was fined an aggregate of $1,000,000 for his pranks. But Chris never collected the money. Recently Latham opened a delicatessen store in New York City, and failing to see any great future in it, he went umpiring in the Colonial League.

Latham HeaderThe “ways that are dark” of the heathen Chinee have nothing on the ways of some ball players I have known. They could fox Solomon in all his glory, and he’d have to acknowledge that he was not as wise as the least of these.

And they were none of your smart youngsters, either. They were old hands: fellows who had broken into baseball about the time of the Franco-Prussian Serious and who had grown gray in their old tobacco-stained unis. They knew more tricks than a circus monkey: and if the other side gave them the slightest opportunity to “do” them—well, that other side was done.

I’m not breaking into the Muck-Raking League in giving these things away, because they are pretty well known to the profession. Besides, in baseball a lot depends on what you can get away with. If the ump isn’t looking you can cut fifteen feet inside third base on the way home; and if you get away with it, all right. If you don’t, just smile it off, hitch your pants, and sit down—after you’ve called the umpire a blind bum. Of course we know that here are some managers who wouldn’t do anything that looked like trickery; but there are others who don’t think o any more of losing a game than they do of their right eye.

Some years ago a man named Charlie Frank managed the New Orleans team [1905-13]. Charlie was the greatest hand for throwing dust in an umpire’s eye (or anyone else’s, for that matter) that I ever saw. And he had the neatest little device for doing it with.

1905 New Orleans

1905 New Orleans

Charlie came out to the game every day with a little valise like the one Dr. Pill used to carry. He kept that valise under his hand always; and if anyone came near it Charlie would hop around like a hen whose eggs are threatened. You’d think he carried bombs in it, or dope to inject into his players. Yet he only carried baseballs!

In that valise were for rows of baseballs. The first row consisted of new, good baseballs. The second row of new, punk balls. Those in the third row were balls that had been dirtied and which had an abnormal amount of rubber in them. The fourth row also held dirty balls, but they were as dead as Caesar. And according as Charlie’s team was in the lead or behind, he would throw out those balls.

The scheme Charlie worked with the new balls was this: He’d break the seal of the box of course, take out the balls, tie a piece of cord around them and hang them up in a dry refrigerator for a few days. At the end of that time you could slam them on the ground with all your might and they wouldn’t bounce half an inch. The fourth row of balls he had in his valise was of the same sort.Latham Phony Pill

Now if a ball were fouled over the grand stand, naturally the umpire would ask Charlie for a new ball. If his team was winning and the other side was at bat, Charlie would throw in a good ball and take his chances. But if they were behind, out would come a punk, new ball. Of course, it is customary for the umpire to examine the cover of the new balls to see that the seal is not broken. But Frank had a way of getting around that, too. Instead of handing the ball to the umpire, he’d take it out of his valise and slam it in the ground. The box would burst open, the ball would roll out and the ump, suspecting nothing, would hand it to the pitcher.

The pitcher would then wind up and shoot a fast, straight one across. The batter would see it coming, get set for it and lean against it with enough force to tear the stitches off it.


There was no stinging smack to that ball. It sounded as though the batter had hit a bag of mud.

And instead of breaking a board in the outfield fence with it, he wouldn’t knock it out of the infield. It couldn’t be dome. If Samson himself had hit that ball with a telephone pole he couldn’t have broken a pane of glass with it.

But when his team came to the bat Charlie worked another ball. He generally had one of those rubber skyrockets on tap and when he needed runs he’d use it. Crack! When a batter hit one of those things he sent it into the next county. Talk about artillery practice! Why, when that ball was passing over the centerfield fence it was only just getting under way. I don’t know whether they ever stopped.

Sometimes a batter would get wise to the “punks,” and after he’d been thrown out a city block at first he’d ask to see the ball. Charlie’s second baseman generally had a good new ball stuck somewhere in his shirt, and after a punk was hit like that, it was always thrown from the first to the second baseman. Then, of course, the second baseman would stick it in his shirt and throw in the good ball.

“There’s somtehin’ phony about that pill,” the batter would say. “I hit hard enough to knock it over the fence.”

Athletic Park, New Orleans. Home of the Pelicans of the Southern Association, 1901-1907.

Athletic Park, New Orleans. Home of the Pelicans of the Southern Association, 1901-1907.

Charlie always got sore when they began to talk like that. If there was anything that hurt Charlie’s feelings it was an implication that he was crooked. He couldn’t hit that sort of delivery at all. It was too low.

“Lay off that stuff!” he’d yell. “What’re you trying to do? Show someone up around here?”

Then he’d bounce the good ball on the ground, and, of course, it would rebound in great shape.

“There. Are you satisfied? You’ve got some crust, you have. You’re some fresh busher. Because you can’t hit don’t try to make a crook out o’ me. Next time you get up, keep your bat in the bat bag. It’ll be just as much use to you there as in your hands.”

And it would, too. A man never had a chance with Charlie Frank.

But if all these things failed, old Charlie had another deck up his sleeve from which he could slip a card any time he wanted one.

On top of the grand stand he had a kid stationed that no one but himself and his team knew of. When a ball was fouled off and landed on top of the grand stand it was the duty of the kid to throw it back. And so he did. But not always the same ball that went up.

Latham The KidHe had a peep hole up there, and before he threw back a ball he’d take a glance at Charlie through the hole and wait for a sign. If Charlie’s team was leading, he’d throw in a good ball. If they were behind, out came a new “punk.” Even at that Charlie wouldn’t give the other team an even break for their money, because as soon as it became a little dark, instead of throwing in a new “punk,” he’d sign the kid to throw in a dirty one, which they barely could see coming at them. Fat chance a team had of winning a game from that gent, if he could help it.

One day the umpire got suspicious of the ball He grabbed it and put it in his pocket. Then he took out his knife to cut it open. As soon as Charlie saw it was all up, he made a run at him. His team followed him, got around the poor ump and started to push him all over the field. Oh, they were a foxy bunch! In the scuffle Charlie got the “punk” out of the ump’s pocket and put in a good ball. Then when the ump got away he cut open the ball—and found it O.K.!

But when the umpires got wise to Charlie’s game at last, what could they do? Nothing. He’d got away with it and that’s all there was to it. They had a good laugh and put Charlie down as an old fox. And so he was.

Charlie wasn’t alone in his glory in those days. Old Buck Ewing was his equal any time. And the peculiar thing about both of them was that they both pulled the same stuff. Buck was managing Cincinnati at the time. I was umpiring in the National League and it was I who finally gummed up his cards.

Buck used to hand out his punks from the bench, all the while looking as innocent as a pet billygoat. You’d never suspect him in the world. He was a wonder. His favorite pastime was reading the standing of the clubs in the Land League in the Irish World.

1895 Spalding League Ball

1895 Spalding League Ball

One day I took one of the ”punks” out of his hands just as he was about to throw it on the ground. I saw that the seal was broken.

“Nix on this stuff,” I said, “give me a new ball.”

Buck was indignant.

“What d’you—Hah! What d’you know?”

I told him I was onto his little game, and if he wanted me to tell someone about it, why, I’d be glad to do it. That killed Buck, and, a far as I know, he never threw another “punk” into the diamond.

There are all sorts of ways of giving the other team less than is coming to them, from getting their signs (which used to be a science with one club I could mention) to shining a mirror into the batters’ eyes. I don’t know that the latter mentioned trick has ever been pulled, so I suppose it isn’t feasible. If it were it would have been pulled long before this. But as I have said, it’s not what you do in baseball but what you get away with.

Old News in Baseball, No. 17

Newsboy logoPitchers and catchers are the first to report in spring training and the first to wilt in the heat of August. What else besides addlepated heat prostration could explain a catcher’s idea to await a ball dropped from the Washington Monument? Or another catcher, typically leaden-footed, to steal home with the bases full in extra innings? Or a pitcher’s brainstorm to issue an intentional base on balls with the sacks already loaded? Or a reliever’s notion that baserunners were a mere nuisance, to be dealt with via three successive pickoffs? Not only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.

August 21

1881: The first instance of an intentional base on balls (though not by that name) with the bases loaded occurs when Buffalo’s Jack Lynch walks Abner Dalrymple of Chicago in the eighth inning. The Chicago Tribune reports: “At one time, when the bases were full, Lynch deliberately sent in seven balls [the rule at the time to provide a base on balls] rather than take the chances of a hit by Dalrymple, who was at bat, and in this way forced a run upon Chicago. But all to no purpose, for Gore followed with a terrific drive for two bases, and three men came in on the hit.” [Reader Nathan Bierma of Grand Rapids, MI alerted me to a likely error here.He found in the Chicago Tribune, and I corroborated with the Chicago Inter-Ocean, mention of this ploy on 8/3, referencing the game of 8/2. Clearly someone in recent times typed 8/21 when they meant 8/2. I could delete this entry but, as 8/2 is past for purposes of this column, I choose to retain it as an interesting story with the caveat that the date cited here (8/21) is wrong.] The earliest printed reference to an intentional walk occurs in the Washington Post on May 2, 1894 in an account of a game between the Boston Beaneaters and Washington Senators. Washington Manager Gus Schmelz instructed his pitcher, Ben Stephens, to give an “intentional base on balls” to George Treadway, “with the object in view of retiring the side on a double play.” For more, see:

1908: Washington catcher Gabby Street stands at the base of the Washington Monument and catches a ball dropped from the top‚ 555 feet up‚ duplicating the feat performed by Pop Schriver of the Chicago Colts on August 24‚ 1894. Street gets a $500 prize for his morning’s efforts‚ then spends the afternoon behind the plate catching Walter Johnson.

1947: The first Little League World Series tournament is held in Williamsport‚ PA. The Maynard Midgets of Williamsport win.

Walter Johnson, Gabby Street

Walter Johnson, Gabby Street

August 22

1915: In the Federal League‚ Newark takes two games from Pittsburgh‚ winning‚ 2-1 and 3-1‚ both wins coming on 10th inning inside-the-park homers by Edd Roush. Newark leads by one percentage point over Kansas City‚ with Pittsburgh third and Chicago fourth‚ only 1-1/2 games separating the teams. In MLB’s closest pennant race ever, Chicago will win it by one game with a mark of 86-66 to St. Louis’s 87-67 and Pittsburgh’s 86-67.

1949: The Giants sell veteran Johnny Mize to the Yankees for $40‚000. Mize has tied Ralph Kiner for the NL lead in homers the past two seasons. As a supersub Mize will star in the World Series for years to come.

1982: Third-string catcher Glenn Brummer steals home with the bases loaded and 2 out in the bottom of the 12th inning to give the Cardinals a 5-4 win over the Giants. Brummer‚ who was running on his own‚ will steal just four bases in his career.

August 23

1936: At Cleveland’s League Park‚ 17-year-old Bob Feller makes his first start and strikes out 15‚ one less than the American League record‚ as Cleveland beats St. Louis‚ 4-1.

1942: Walter Johnson pitching to Babe Ruth is the pregame attraction that draws 69‚000 for the New York-Washington game at Yankee Stadium that provides $80‚000 for Army-Navy relief. Ruth hits a pitch into the right-field stands, his last homer in a big-league park.

Babe Ruth Homers off Walter Johnson, 1942

Babe Ruth Homers off Walter Johnson, 1942

1953: Phil Paine‚ a former Boston Braves pitcher with the U.S. Air Force in Japan‚ becomes the first former big leaguer to play in Japan. He pitches in nine games for the Nishitetsu Lions. For more, see:

August 24

1918: In Baltimore‚ Babe Ruth’s father dies following a fight with his brother-in-law outside his saloon. The funeral will be on the 28th and Babe will miss two Red Sox games.

Babe Ruth and Father, 1915

Babe Ruth and Father, 1915

1952: Minor-league phenom Ron Necciai fans only one as he receives credit for his only major league win‚ 4-3 over the Boston Braves. On May 13 of this year, pitching in the Class D Appalachian League for the Bristol Twins against the Welch Miners, he had struck out 27 men while tossing a no-hitter. One man had been retired on a groundout, but a passed ball on a strikeout permitted Necciai to record four strikeouts in an inning. For more, see:

1983: Making his only career appearance behind the plate‚ Oriole infielder Lenn Sakata catches the 10th inning against the Blue Jays and hits a three-run homer as the O’s win‚ 7-4. Toronto had gone ahead 4-3 in the top of the inning when Tippy Martinez relieved Tim Stoddard with a run in in, a man on, and no outs. Picking off the inherited runner, Martinez walked his first batter …. and picked him off, then allowed a single to Willie Upshaw and picked HIM off.

Moonlight Graham, by Helmar Cards

Moonlight Graham, by Helmar Cards

August 25

1952: In a 1-0 win over the Yankees in Yankee Stadium‚ Virgil Trucks of the Detroit Tigers pitches his second no-hitter of the season, giving him his fifth win of the season. He will finish with a won-lost mark of 5-19.

1965: Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham dies in Chisholm‚ MN. Graham played in one big-league game‚ for the 1905 Giants‚ and did not get to bat. His character in W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (renamed Field of Dreams in the cinematic version) made him a household name. For more, see:

1985: Dwight Gooden wins his 14th consecutive game and his 20th of the season, 9-3 over San Diego. He will finish the season 24-4. At the age of 20 years‚ 9 months, Gooden is the youngest pitcher ever to win 20 games. Bob Feller was a month older when he first won 20 in 1939.

A.G. Mills

A.G. Mills

August 26

1929: Abraham G. Mills‚ NL president 1883-84‚ author of the National Agreement and original reserve rule that governed baseball’s early years‚ dies at 84. He had also been chairman of the Mills Commission that, at Albart Spalding’s behest, in 1908 anointed Abner Doubleday as the inventor of baseball. Mills joined a dozen veterans of the National League’s inaugural campaign at the fiftieth anniversary banquet at the Hotel Astor on February 2, 1926. The machinations involving the Special Commission, Abner Doubleday, and Cooperstown were very distant indeed, so Mills may well have been surprised when he was asked a question that evening about what evidence he had for Cooperstown as baseball’s birthplace. “None at all,” he answered.

1939: The first telecast of a big league game occurs at Ebbets Field as the Cincinnati Reds play the Dodgers in a doubleheader. Red Barber broadcasts the game over W2XBS‚ the “2” referring to the number of sets able to view the game: one is in the press box‚ while the other‚ at the RCA Pavilion in Rockefeller Center‚ attracts a crowd.

1947: Signed by the Dodgers, former Memphis Red Sox Negro Leaguer Dan Bankhead becomes MLB’s first African-American pitcher. The Pirates rock Bankhead for 10 hits and 8 runs in 3-1/3 relief innings‚ but Bankhead homers in his first at bat.

August 27

1912: In response to demands for an alternative way to rate pitchers besides wins and losses‚ the National League will once again officially record Earned Run Average, as it had in the 1870s. The AL will not make ERA part of their official statistics until 1913. The natural corrective to the deficient won-lost percentage, the earned run average preceded it in the 1860s, gave way to it in the 1880s, and then returned. For more, see:

1918: After today’s doubleheader split with the Braves in Cincinnati‚ Christy Mathewson resigns as Reds manager to accept a commission as a captain in the chemical warfare branch of the Army.

1992: The Mets trade pitcher David Cone to Toronto in exchange for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. Cone will miss leading the league in strikeouts by one as John Smoltz registers a K on the final day of the season. If not for the trade, Cone would have been the first NL pitcher in 50 years to lead in strikeouts for three consecutive years.

Over the Plate: Arlie Latham’s Own Baseball Stories, No. 1

Arlie Latham, 1911

Arlie Latham, 1911

In the weeks to come, I will offer up some Arlie Latham tales that were published in the New York World a century ago and reprinted by a handful of newspapers, beginning in August 1915, but have escaped notice since. Latham is one of baseball’s most colorful if not necessarily likable (or trustworthy) characters. Born in 1860, Latham lived long enough–until 1952–to tell, repeat, and “enrich” his tales for several generations of writers, including Robert Smith (author of the wonderful the wonderful Baseball, 1947). To get us started, here’s a snapshot of who he was.

Arlie Latham was called “the Freshest Man on Earth” after a popular song of the 1880s. The song is long forgotten, but Latham lives on in his stories. He was also something of a clown and thus a fan favorite. He was famous for profanely badgering the opposition and hectoring his own players, thus earning him the enmity of both. His private life was as tumultuous as that on the field: his first wife attempted suicide, and his second wife divorced him, charging “perversion, assault, desertion, and infidelity.”

Latham had a brief trial with Buffalo’s National League team in 1880, but didn’t stick in the leagues until he joined the St. Louis Browns of the American Association in 1883, who went on secure four straight American Association championships from 1885 through 1888. Although he batted above .300 four times in his career, he was not considered an outstanding hitter. He excelled mostly on defense, exhibiting one of the strongest arms in baseball, as well as on the basepaths. Because the rules at that time credited a player with a steal whenever he took an extra base on a teammate’s hit, it is impossible to accurately reconstruct Latham’s record in modern terms. However, under the rules of his day, he was credited with 129 steals in 1887, and he led the league the next year with 109. His career total, with some years unavailable, is 739.

Arlie Latham, 1888

Arlie Latham, 1888

Latham played part of the 1890 season in the Players League, then joined Cincinnati of the National League, where he starred through 1895, his last full season. He did play briefly with St. Louis in 1896 and with Washington in 1899. He spent three years as an umpire before returning to the game in 1909 with the New York Giants.

At a time when players took turns coaching baserunners at first and third, John McGraw hired Latham to be baseball’s first professional coach. Some say that his habit of roaming the length of the foul line inspired the creation of the coaches’ boxes that bracket the diamond today. Latham also played in four games that year, and though he went hitless, he became, at the age of 49, the oldest player to steal a base.

Into his nineties he served as the press box custodian at, first, Yankee Stadium, and then the Polo Grounds.

Latham Tells Stories of Chris von der Ahe

New York, N.Y., Aug. 14 [1915]–There was a fat German saloon keeper outside the old ball grounds in St. Louis and after the games he used to stand at the end of his bar and watch his sweating bar-keepers rake in the shekels.

“Five tousand tamn fools,” he would say, “and one wise man. Und dat wise man is me–Chris von de[r] Ahe.”

But old Chris saw money in baseball and soon he became interested in the sport, writes Arlie Latham in the World. Eventually he became owner of the St. Louis Browns, one of the most successful teams that ever played the game. From that time on everyone knew Chris. For all his eccentricities he was a likable old fellow and, as he said, no fool.

He was a big man with a face like the full moon and a nose like a bunch of strawberries. It’s a wonder he wasn’t cross-eyed from trying to see around it. He had a stomach as big as a bush leaguer’s opinion of himself, and for every step he took forward he had to take two to each side.

Chris von der Ahe, 1887

Chris von der Ahe, 1887

Chris had a great sense of his won dignity, and if he caught a player trying to pull any wise stuff on him he made the player pay for it–that is, he told he was fined. I have estimated that while I played with his club he fined me a million dollars. But he never got a cent of it, for he always forgot it the next day.

His heart and soul were bound up in his ball club, and he never could see any excuse for losing a game. If anyone booted away a game, Chris roared like a bull. Sometimes, when the team would be going bad, Chris would become so disgusted that he would threaten to fine the whole club. But we would remember that it was only old Chris von der Ahe talking, and we let it go at that.

If there was one thing Chris hated it was to see a man hit a fly ball.

“Shtop hitting them high-fliers!” he’d yell. “Keep them on the floor! Don’t you know them fielders can catch does high vuns?”

Taking Observations

He used to have a seat on the bench, and when a fly ball would be hit Chris would groan and then grab a telescope he had always with him. He’d focus the fielder running after the ball and then begin to pull with his arms and legs as if to pull the ball away from him. He’d grunt like a man lifting a heavy weight and bend his body almost double, as though he thought he could change the course of the ball. Finally, just as the fielder was about to catch the ball Chris would be so excited and doubled up that he usually ended by toppling off the bench with a crash. Then the players always gave him the horse laugh.

When Chris picked himself up his mustache would be sticking up like the quills of a porcupine, and if he saw anyone laughing heaven help that wretch!

As I could, he never could see any excuse for an error. No matter how hard the ball came, get it! If you knew it was going to knock your head off, get it! If it came so fast that it would kill you–well, Chris would forgive–maybe.

One day in St. Louis they were knocking them at me so fast I could only wave my arms and hope one of them wouldn’t hit me in the teeth. They must have hit a million at me. Well, a million may be an exaggeration, but there were at least 900,000. All I could do was stand there, let them hit me on the chest and trust to luck to recover them in time to throw the runner out at first. I could hear Chris mumbling something about a “chackass,” but I was afraid to look at him.

1888 St. Louis Browns, cabinet card by Guerin.

1888 St. Louis Browns, cabinet card by Guerin.

At the eighth inning the other team had us three runs to the bad. That was too much for Chris. He pulled himself out of his seat and started for the gate. He could never stay to see us lose, and when the game got beyond what he thought was hope he would get up and march out to the box office. There he’d drown his sorrows by counting the gate money. If the crowd was big he would speedily forget about the game.

This day, however, when he was in the middle of his counting there was a terrific noise outside.

A player came running in and found Chris serenely counting his coin.

“Did you hear that, Chris?” yelled the player.


“Do you know what it was?”

“Oh, I suppose that chackass Laydem made anodder error.”

“No. But he just made a home run with three on, and won the game for you.”

“I always said,” remarked Chris that night, “dot Laydem vos the best man I effer hat in a binch.”

Not a Sane Fourth

But I got back at Chris in my own way. And then he got back at me again.That was always the trouble with that old bird. He got wise to things eventually and then he’d gum the cards with a fine.

We were playing in St. Louis one Fourth of July morning and it occurred to me that I’d have a little fun with the club owner. During our batting period I got a dynamite bomb from a man in the grandstand, and then, when our side was out, I walked out to third and put it under the base where Chris couldn’t see it. I had also got a piece of punk, and, as though tying my shoelace, I lit the fuse of the bomb. Then I pulled down my cap, put my hands on my knees and while shouting, “Come on! Get in the game!” I watched it.

All of a sudden–boom!

1883 St Louis Browns

1883 St Louis Browns

I jumped three feet in the air and landed on my back, kicking and writhing.Then I rolled on my side and kept one eye cocked at von der Ahe. He always carried a bugle with him with which he summoned the special policemen when he needed them. When he saw me fall he put the bugle to his lips  and tooted away for dear life. The specials came running from all parts of the stand and surrounded their employer. When he felt that he was safe and that no one could shoot him without first killing  guard he got up and yelled,

“Who in blazes shoot Laydem?” Then he came down oin the field surrounded by his guard and looked at me.

Presently I jumped up, shook myself and looked old Chris in the eye.

“It’s all right, Chris,” I said; “It didn’t go in; it just stunned me.”

Just then a player with a pail of ice water came running up and threw it over me. At that the spectators and players began to roar, and I could see the light of understanding coming into Chris’ eyes.

“You chackass,” he yelled at last. “I fine you $50.”

Which he never got.

Up in the Air

But Kid Gleason pulled a better one than that on him–and nearly got away with it.The team had been going bad for a while and Chris began to look blue around the gills. He couldn’t understand it. He never could. He never could see why the breaks should go against his team.

He took us into a hotel and began to call us down. He hadn’t been talking long when all the players began to laugh. Chris couldn’t stand anyone laughing at him. He saw Gleason just closing his mouth.

“Vot are you laffing at Gleason?” he demanded.

“Oh,” said Gleason, “I was laughing at those three kids looking in the window.”

Chris became furious at this and ordered the shutters closed immediately.

“Dey can’t look in here, the little low-lifes,” he exploded.

We were on the ninth floor of the building!

Chris saw the joke next day, hunted up Gleason and fined him $50. Which also he never collected.

If he became thoroughly disgusted with the team’s work he’d threaten to fine or release the whole team outright. When he’d threaten us in that manner we’d all go to the nearest telegraph office and wire for jobs. Of course Chris would hear of this immediately and in a few minutes down he’d come with good nature oozing out of him, haul us all up to the hotel and buy us a good dinner with wine.

Chris Von Der Ahe mortuary statue

Chris Von Der Ahe mortuary statue

Another thing he hated was to lose a baseball. Every time a ball was fouled out of the grounds he’d almost break his neck trying to keep his eye on it. One day in St. Louis they were fouling them off as fast as the pitcher could shoot them across. Every foul that would sail up in the air Chris would watch until he almost fell out of his seat. And to make it worse for him I’d run up and yell:

“There goes another dollar and a quarter, Chris!”

Finally Chris couldn’t stand it any longer.

“You’re too fresh, Laydem!” he said, getting up and pointing at me. “You’ll pay for dem balls. I fine you a hundred dollars!”

Poor old von der Ahe is dead now, and, I hope, at rest. His good nature got him a host of friends and his eccentricities lost him all his money. He was a good old fellow, when all is said, and he treated his players like men. And, even if they did poke fun at him they liked him just the same.

Old News in Baseball, No. 16

Newsboy logoPitching and defense and daring—those were the keys to winning in the deadball era, and are increasingly relevant today, as batters seem to be headed toward the endangered species list. This week’s Old News in Baseball features low-hit pitching and steals of home—the Yankees had 18 in one season! Now, I like home runs as much as the next guy, but I mourn the disappearance of the triple, the double steal, and especially the steal of home—which, with its high ratio of reward to risk, is the game’s most unfairly neglected play. So take the week off, Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron and Barry Bonds. All hail Ty Cobb, who stole home more than anyone; Lou Gehrig, who is, surprisingly, second on the list; and this week, hail Vic Power and Guy Zinn (who? read on).

August 14

1878: The Indianapolis Hoosiers of the National League expel Ed “The Only” Nolan for leaving the team to visit a sick brother. It turns out that he was visiting a brothel. For more, see:

1958: Vic Power, slick fielding first baseman of the Cleveland Indians, steals home in the eighth inning and again in the tenth to give his team a 10-9 win over Detroit. Power becomes the first American Leaguer since Doc Gautreau in l927 to steal home twice in the same game.

1996: The Atlanta Braves bring up Andruw Jones of Curaçao. The 19-year-old center fielder started the season a season in Class A, moved up to AA and then AAA‚ and would go on to hit home runs in his first two at bats in the World Series.

Guy Hecker

Guy Hecker

August 15

1886: Louisville pitcher Guy Hecker has a day to remember. He throws a four-hitter to defeat Baltimore, 22-5. He scores seven runs in a game. He collects six hits—to give him 17 in his last four games—including three home runs. Everyone assumes that Babe Ruth was the greatest hitting pitcher the game has ever produced but only Hecker won a batting title, with a .341 mark in 1886.

1912: Guy Zinn‚ obscure Yankees outfielder‚ steals home twice in a 5-4 win at Detroit; this will add to last-place New York’s all-time record of 18 steals of home for the year.

1962: The Mets play out two of their more disturbing losses in this season of horrors. They lose the back end of a twin bill with the Phils despite tying a major league reiord with two pinch-hit home runs. Choo Choo Coleman hits the first in the sixth inning and Jim Hickman hits another in the eighth) but the Mets still lose to the Phillies‚ 8-7‚ in 13 innings. The Phils had taken the opener‚ 9-3 behind two home runs by Don Demeter—both off Bob Miller but each off a different Mets pitcher of the same name. The first came off righty Bob L. Miller (season record, 1-12) in the third frame and the other off lefty Bob G. Miller (season record, 2-2) in the ninth.

Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman

August 16

1886: Bob Caruthers becomes the first pitcher to record four extra-base hits in a game‚ but he allows 10 runs in the eighth inning and loses 11-9. Having hit a double and two home runs earlier‚ Caruthers ends the game tagged out at home trying for a third.

1909: New York and Pittsburgh play to a 2-2 tie at Forbes Field‚ stopped after eight innings because of rain. Giants outfielder Red Murray prevents a loss with one of the greatest catches ever seen. With two outs and two on‚ the Bucs’ Dots Miller belts a long line drive off Christy Mathewson into the gathering gloom. With everyone straining to follow the ball‚ a bolt of lightning flashes and Murray is seen making a bare-handed grab on the dead run to end the inning. Bill Klem then suspends the game. Oldtimers were still saying, into the 1950s, that this was the greatest catch of all. If only we had video!

1920: On an overcast day at the Polo Grounds, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, a righthanded batter who crowds the plate‚ freezes and fails to get out of the way of a scuffed and discolored ball from Yankees submarine-style pitcher Carl Mays. The ball caroms off Chapman’s head and renders him unconscious. He dies the next day from a fractured skull. Mays‚ a surly‚ unpopular pitcher‚ will be the target of fans’ and players’ outrage, perhaps misplaced. Henceforth, discolored balls will be removed from play. Chapman is followed at shortstop by Joe Swell, who will win a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Roy Thomas

Roy Thomas

August 17

1882: The host Providence Grays defeat the Detroit Wolverines 1-0 in 18 innings on a home run by Hoss Radbourn, playing right field in this game. Winning pitcher John Ward and loser Stump Weidman both go all the way. Providence almost won in the 16th when George Wright “hit a liner over [George] Wood’s head and out of the horse gate‚ but Wood went outside‚ got the ball and fielded Wright out at the plate” (Detroit Free Press). For more, see:

1900: Reds pitcher Bill Phillips punches Phillies batter Roy Thomas after Thomas fouls off a dozen pitches in the eighth inning. Reportedly (as noted by Art Ahrens)‚ Thomas had fouled off 22 straight on another occasion. Such frustrating antics by Thomas and John McGraw are chiefly responsible for the National League adopting the foul strike rule next year. (The AL will wait until 1903.) This rule, perhaps more than increasing the pitching distance to its current length in 1892, may be said to mark the dawn of “modern baseball.”

August 18

1909: Giants player-coach Arlie Latham steals second base in the Giants’ 14-1 laugher over the Phillies. At 49‚ he is the oldest player to swipe a base. It is the 739th of his big-league career, commenced in 1880. In the weeks to come, Our Game will feature reminiscences by baseball’s legendary bon vivant, knave, and raconteur, unpublished since their newspaper syndication in 1915. For more, see:

1940: The Sunday New York Daily News publishes a shocking article written by its sports editor‚ Jimmy Powers‚ suggesting that the Yankees‚ had been hit by a “mass polio epidemic.” Powers charges that Lou Gehrig‘s “infantile paralysis” (in truth, of course, amyotrophic later sclerosis, or ALS, an incommunicable disease) had infected the other Yankees‚ accounting for the team’s uncharacteristic fifth-place standing. Gehrig brings suit for $1 million against Powers and the newspaper; so do other Yankees. The News issues a public apology on September 26. Powers admits he had no business getting “snarled up in medical controversy …. Hurting [Lou’s] feelings was far from my mind.”

1983: In the continuation of the “Pine Tar Game‚” Hal McRae strikes out for the last Kansas City out and Dan Quisenberry retires the Yankees in order in the bottom of the ninth to preserve the Royals’ 5-4 victory. The conclusion takes just 12 minutes (and 16 pitches) and‚ as the only game scheduled at the Stadium‚ is witnessed by a crowd of 1‚245.

Jim Maloney

Jim Maloney

August 19

1945: In Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Reds‚ 37-year-old slugger Jimmie Foxx makes his first pitching start‚ lasting seven 7 innings for the Philadelphia Blue Jays (briefly the preferred name for the Phillies). He leaves with a 4-1 lead‚ and Andy Karl saves Foxx’s win

1965: The Reds’ Jim Maloney records his second 10-inning no-hit effort of 1965—but wins this one as Leo Cardenas homers at Wrigley Field. Maloney allows 10 walks and fans 12.

1982: Scheduled to pitch against the Expos in a home game‚ Braves’ rookie Pascual Perez misses the start of the game when he can’t find his way to the ball park. Perez circles on the expressway several times but Phil Niekro is forced to take his spot.

August 20

1877: Louisville director Charles E. Chase receives an anonymous telegram from Hoboken‚ NJ‚ saying that “something is wrong with the Louisville players” and that gamblers were betting on Hartford. Louisville then loses today’s game to Hartford‚ 6-1. When the story is finally made public, The Louisville Courier-Journal headlined:
A Complete Exposé of How Four Ball Men Picked Up Stray Pennies
Hall and Devlin Bounce Themselves
Out of the League on Their Own Testimony.
Nichols and Craver Also Take Their Gruel
for Tasting of Forbidden Fruits
A SAD, SAD STORY . . . .

1886: Matt Kilroy of the Orioles and Joe Miller of the Athletics hurl opposing one-hitters. Baltimore wins 1-0 on first-inning errors‚ but doesn’t get a hit until the ninth. There will be four other opposing one-hitters in the next 100 years‚ all 1-0 games: Mordecai Brown over Lefty Leifield on July 4‚ 1906; Bob Cain over Bob Feller on April 23‚ 1952; Jack Harshman over Connie Johnson on June 21‚ 1956; and Frank Bertaina over Bob Meyer on September 12‚ 1964. For stinginess, however, it’s hard to top Sandy Koufax (no-hitter) and Bob Henley (one-hitter) on September 9, 1965 … unless one counts the double- not game of Fred Toney and Hippo Vaughn on May 2, 1917, which ended with the latter allowing two hits in the tenth. For more, see:

1945: At the age of 17‚ Dodgers shortstop Tommy Brown becomes the youngest player to hit a big-league homer, off Pirates southpaw Preacher Roe.

The Krank–Baseball’s Rarest Book

KRANK_cropIn baseball literature, this little book–sixty-four pages, dimensions two inches by two-and-a-half inches, printed on “blood parchment” and “bound in the skin of a baseball”–is the rarest of the rare. The New York Public Library has a copy, and so does the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. Three other copies appear to exist, also held by institutions, and another, the sixth, was sold at auction nine years ago. Its author is Thomas William Lawson, who would go on to fame as a wizard of Wall Street, but who at this time was the manager of a troubled publishing firm in Boston, Rand Avery Company, which printed the book and sold it to the public for twenty-five cents.

The Krank: His Language and What It Means is a humorous glossary of baseball terms. Many of these are highly picturesque to the modern imagination (a strikeout is “cutting a hole in space,” “ smashing the wind,” or “compressing the atmosphere”). Others are fascinating for their etymological clues. What we today call a “pop fly,” for instance, is defined and depicted as a pot fly–the household insect that traces lazy circles over a steaming pot in the kitchen. The book begins:

The Krank is a heterogeneous compound of flesh, bone, and base-ball, mostly base-ball. He came into existence along back in the early seventies. He came to stay.

The Krank is purly American. He is found in no other country.

The Krank is of the masculine gender. The female of the tribe is known to science as a Kranklet.

The Krank has reached a high state of cultivation. The Kranklet is at present only partly developed.

The Krank has a shell, into which he crawls in the month of November. He does not emerge from it until April. While in his shell his only article of food is stray newspaper articles on deals. During the Krank season, from April to November, he subsists on air, and waxes strong.

Advertisement, 1888

Advertisement, 1888

“Krank” surely derives from the German word for sick as well as the British dialect meaning of “cranky,” which is “feeble-minded.” Baseball devotees at the turn of the century were also called “bugs,” thus casting another aspersion on those who were simply mad about the game.

As a boy Thomas William Lawson had been a “candy butcher” on the New England trains, which meant that he sold candy, tobacco, and newspapers in the aisles. He was a rabid baseball fan–even before that term replaced the older “krank”–to such an extent that in 1884 he took the profits of his candy business and poured them into a baseball-card game of his own invention. Then he wrote The Krank, and contracted with 18-year-old Boston art student Sears Gallagher–who would go on to win fame as an illustrator, etcher, and painter–to illustrate it with silhouettes.

Next for Lawson was a stint on Wall Street during which he became seriously wealthy through stock-market manipulation. He became a yachtsman and a full-fledged financier of the Amalgamated Copper Company, one of the trusts that enraged Teddy Roosevelt and Judge Landis. In 1904 and 1905 Lawson confessed to his stock-market swindling and bared the whole Wall Street mess in a famous book called Frenzied Finance, which was first published serially in Everybody’s magazine. Then he became a novelist, writing Friday the Thirteenth for publication by Doubleday in 1907, and after that turned to satire under the nom de plume of Thomas W. Roastem.

Quite a career, this Baseball Leonardo. A recent profile of him may be read here: For a discussion of his parlor game, see:

All but truly a handful of you have ever seen the pages of this book. My xerographic copy is by now some thirty years old, and a bit furry, but it would be ill grace to complain–The Krank has not been reproduced at all to now.


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